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Breaking Down Three Potential Mid-Range Trail Blazers Draft Picks

If the Trail Blazers went crazy and traded their way into the 2016 NBA Draft, they might consider these three big men.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Unless you're a fan of the remaining two teams left in this year's chase of the Larry O'Brien trophy, you're now contemplating the successes and failures of the season that has just completed and looking towards what could be next year.

What players may come and go through free agency? What trades, expected and unexpected will occur over the next several months? Other than a scant handful of players, there are only a few who's movement will really change the landscape of competition around the league. Their value, for the most part, is known and quantified- attached with a price tag. However, there's one time, one place a year where that value can reach astronomical levels.

A team can set their franchise up for a decade with the smart move, or just as easily they could perpetuate a cycle of continued failure with one misstep. Of course we're talking about the NBA Draft. Here, the ultimate lottery ticket could land anywhere between the first and the sixtieth pick. Granted, the odds of the generational talent skews towards to the top pick heavily, there is still extreme value to be had into the late lottery and beyond.

Right now the Portland Trail Blazers don't have a pick in the 2016 Draft. The pick has been conveyed to the Denver Nuggets as part of the package the netted Portland Aaron Afflalo last year at the trade deadline. The pick was sent out with lottery protection, meaning if it fell inside the top fourteen picks, Portland would keep it for another season. As soon as the Trail Blazers clinched a playoff spot, the Nuggets secured themselves a draft pick.

Earlier this week, we discussed potential trades involving Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum. Whether or not you agree he should be dealt, today we're acting as if a deal has been made to secure one of 3 picks- the Milwaukee Bucks, Orlando Magic, or Phoenix Suns picks - owners of the 10th, 11th and 13th picks in this year's draft.

Why those spots? Besides the fact that they link to deals previously discussed there's a multitude of factors that are at play here.  They're picks that could potentially be available (attainable) with the assets Portland currently has, the players available in this range fit a number of needs the Trail Blazers need to address, and in the case of Phoenix they have multiple first round picks at their disposal.

So for discussion's sake, assume that the Trail Blazers have netted a pick in the 10-13 range. The players most assume will be taken in that group are Domantas Sabonis (Gonzaga), Skal Labissiere (Kentucky), and Jakob Poeltl (Utah).

Conveniently enough, all of these young men have one thing in common- they're all projected as frontcourt players on the NBA level. The bad news? None of them are a sure thing.


Let's address the most obvious and familiar name on the board right away, Domantas Sabonis. There's a lot to like about the real Baby Sabonis. He's a top flight rebounder- ranking 7th in the NCAA (one spot behind Ben Simmons) at 11.6 rebounds per game. He shot over 61 percent from the floor, showed the ability to step out to the 3-point line, and shot a very solid 77 percent from the free throw line. Offensively, Sabonis is pretty well developed- he's got one of the more advanced post games to come out of college in the last 10 years and he's shown a jump shot that could be developed into a consistent weapon. Mix that in with a motor that doesn't quit, an incredibly high basketball IQ, and a desire to compete on both ends of the floor and you've got yourself a very solid player.


However, there are issues at hand-most notably one that haunts current Trail Blazer's center Mason Plumlee. For all of Sabonis' heart, hustle, and skill he measured in at 6'10" with a 6'10" wingspan. Paired with average athleticism and strength at the power forward position he starts to look more like a tweener big than either a true power forward or center. The folks over at do a fabulous job of breaking down Sabonis' weaknesses in this edit - noting his lack of length, strength, and athleticism as major factors when projecting his draft position and future potential.

When you look up and down Portland's roster, adding Sabonis just doesn't make sense right now. While he most definitely has some potential, he doesn't bring anything into the fold that's so overwhelming that he warrants trading into the draft for. If Portland was a team that had multiple picks in the draft like Phoenix, maybe he's someone they target as a surefire NBA rotation player. But, if you're moving into the draft at this point you're holding the bat back here and waiting to be served that four-seam heater.


Skal Labissiere came into the 2015-16 college basketball season as the #2 overall recruit. With that came the prodigious tag of "the next one" to come through as a one and done big at the Kentucky University. However, things didn't quite work out that way. SBNation author Ricky O'Donnell highlighted the issues that UK faced early in the season and Skal was at the heart of some of the issues there this past season.

However, even with that in mind he projects as one of the higher potential players in the entire draft. If you were to go through his scouting reports across a number of scouting services, his reports would read a lot like another project big- Serge Ibaka.

Both are long and very athletic- able to run the floor with grace and ease. Each has a great wingspan and show shot blocking instincts both on and off ball. Their shooting touch, for their size, is also incredible- demonstrating an ability to finish with both hands around the rim and the ability to step all the way out to the 3-point line with consistency.

Also like Ibaka, it's clear that Labissiere will need some time to develop. This isn't to say that Skal is an Ibaka clone- they're not. There are just a lot of similarities in their games. Labissiere is the more fluid athlete, Ibaka is and was clearly stronger with better rebounding instincts early on.  Both have a very high release on their jumper, and get good elevation on their set shots. As well they've demonstrated great touch both inside and outside, and the ability to block shots from seemingly out of nowhere.

Keep in mind that Ibaka's best assets at 19 years old were built around his athleticism. Not his shot blocking, rebounding, or scoring ability. Labissiere just turned 20 years old in March and he still oozes potential on both ends of the floor that go along with a very high level of athleticism and length.


For Portland, this has to be an enticing pick. Clearly he underperformed in college, but his upside is incredibly high. If he were to turn into an Ibaka like player- someone who could play the power forward or center position- able to guard the pick and roll on the perimeter and offer rim protection and shot blocking alongside and offensively minded center, say a Nic Vucevic, Portland could have a young and very dynamic frontcourt in no time.

If the Trail Blazers do indeed move into this position, selecting a player like Labissiere shows that Portland is willing to both roll the dice and show patience in building around Damian Lillard. This also helps Portland stock the cupboard so to speak with assets as all of their high potential young talent is coming up on free agency over this summer and the next. Another potential-laden asset on a low price deal while the salary cap explodes could be the most valuable commodity in the NBA over the next 3-4 years.

If Portland finds themselves in a position to draft the young big man from Kentucky and pair him with Damian Lillard, that's an opportunity they probably shouldn't pass up.


Let's take a look at the top rated "true" center, Jakob Poeltl. A true seven-footer, coming in over 7-foot tall without shoes Poeltl presents an interesting case for Portland fans. The first thing you notice about him is his size, and how well he moves with it. Despite his immense size he moves incredibly well. Think more LaMarcus Aldridge than Joel Pryzbilla when it comes to movement. However, his game doesn't play out as you might expect.

Much like another international big from the University of Utah, Poeltl's game looks a bit like Andrew Bogut's. Some might call it a lazy comparison- but there are more than a few folks out there that have made the connection.

Offensively the young Austrian-born Poeltl has shown a solid but rudimentary post game. Scoring on nearly 60 percent of his one-on-one possessions in the post, and finishing nearly 69 percent of his shots around the rim. Outside the paint he hasn't shown all that much, but he improved his free throw shooting drastically from his freshman to his sophomore years. Going from a DeAndre Jordan-esque 43 percent to nearly 70 percent this past season. That kind of growth shows that he may be able to add a 15-foot jump shot to his game in the future.

Defensively, Poeltl shows potential. While not the shot blocker some might expect for a 7-footer, he lacks elite level athleticism and suffers from a short wingspan relative to his height, measuring just under 7'3" at the NBA Combine. However, all is not lost! While he lacks the elite athleticism and wingspan of a player such as Anthony Davis or Karl Anthony-Towns, Poeltl shows good instincts and footwork.

Most scouts have Poeltl labeled as a plus defender in the NBA, although he won't anchor a defense like some of the top flight defensive bigs in the NBA today. He will not however, hurt you defensively at all. This isn't by all means all-inclusive,  but DraftExpress did a review of Poeltl's head to head match up with then freshmen sensation Jahlil Okafor. It gives an idea of how Poetlt faired as a young freshman against Jahlil Okafor. From this match-up you can begin to see why scouts around the league are enticed by the young big man out of Utah.


If Portland is going to take a long, hard look a Poeltl chances are they're looking to add a defensive minded, athletic power forward to the mix to play alongside Poeltl in the future. While Poeltl brings some enticing skills to the table, the lack of length and defensive upside limits how valuable he could be to Portland immediately. He does however fit if Portland is looking to play the long game and build around him and other pieces acquired in a draft day deal.

I could see a few scenarios that play out where Portland could find themselves drafting Poeltl, but if there are other players available on the board it's a soft pass on Poeltl.


If the Trail Blazers are going to move into the late lottery to draft one of these three bigs, it has to be a part of a much larger deal. None of them are NBA ready out of the gate. All bring a solid game to the table, each a very different player in their own right.

Sabonis is easily the safest pick. Those at have him listed as a Luis Scola type player comparison, I lean more towards a better version of Nick Collison. He's incredibly intelligent, a diligent worker, makes all the right plays, but lacks the elite level skills to be anything more than a 5th starter or a very good role player.

Of all the players listed though, he's the most likely to have a 10+ year NBA career, so there's certainly some staying power there.

One look at Labissiere and you can see the potential. Long, athletic, and blessed with incredible natural talent he could be a premier supporting player like Ibaka, Joakim Noah, or DeAndre Jordan, just as easily as he could turn out to be Jonathan Bender or Tyrus Thomas.

Players with potential are just that- potential. Until it's actualized it's nothing more than belief, but man does Skal show off a lot of belief. There's certainly a lot of risk in taking the young man, but considering the man who drafted DeAndre Jordan is currently running the Trail Blazers, if he sees fit to drafting Skal you can count me in 100 percent.

Poeltl is the in-between pick when it comes to sure thing vs. potential. As a sophomore he's got a bit more seasoning to him than Skal, but he's not as developed as Sabonis, nor does he have his basketball pedigree. He's also the biggest of the 3, giving the team that drafts him the one thing that can't be coached- size.

Of this were a Goldilocks like comparison, Poeltl would be in the middle, but I would argue that he's not "just right" for the Trail Blazers.

If the Blazers find themselves in a position to draft one of these players, ultimately that means a deal has been made that includes either Greg Monroe or Nic Vucevic, and the player that best fits alongside both of them is Labissiere.

What say you? If the Trail Blazers make a move into the late lottery, who should the Blazers be targeting? Are there any deals that don't involve moving McCollum that get the Blazers into a positon to make a lottery pick?

Let us know below in the comments!